seeing green

Houston real estate giant cracks down on carbon emissions

Hines, which opened its Texas Tower in 2021, is hoping to reach net-zero operational carbon by 2040. Image via Hines

Houston-based real estate giant Hines is on a mission to make its entire global portfolio free of carbon emissions.

Hines recently set a target of its 1,530 properties in 28 countries being net-zero operational carbon by 2040, including the 27.7 million square feet of space it owns or manages in the Houston area. Operational carbon refers to greenhouse gases produced by building operations.

The company says it will accomplish the net-zero goal by reducing emissions through renewable technology, and not by purchasing carbon offset credits.

Peter Epping, global head of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) at Hines, says that because the company has made its carbon-neutral plan public, “investors, developers, engineers, and building managers across our industry can use it to guide their own carbon-reduction efforts.”

Hines notes that the real estate sector emits nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions related to energy. The World Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment calls for decarbonizing half of buildings by 2030 and all buildings by 2050.

“As the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives every day, the real estate industry has a responsibility to acknowledge this growing problem and take meaningful action to reduce our collective carbon emissions,” Jeff Hines, chairman and co-CEO of Hines, says in a news release. “By seeking to achieve net-zero operational carbon without relying on offsets, Hines wants to raise the bar for sustainability and invest in a plan designed to achieve significant and tangible results.”

To achieve those results, Hines plans to:

  • Halting the use fossil fuels to power buildings in its $90.3 billion portfolio.
  • Reducing energy demand by improving building efficiencies.
  • Boosting reliance on renewable energy.
  • Using “circular systems” to reduce energy waste and enhance efficiency.
  • Promoting carbon capture.

A recent report from Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins underscores the economic benefits that the net-zero movement presents to commercial real estate players like Hines.

“Real estate increasingly attracts attention from sustainability-minded investors amid a wider push for ESG considerations in bond and loan markets. … Decarbonizing the real estate industry will likely require trillions of dollars of capital, but there is vast opportunity for environmentally friendly projects to access additional financing sources, often on favorable terms,” Caitlin Snelson, sustainable finance senior associate in the Houston office of Vinson & Elkins, says in a news release.

Beyond real estate, Hines’ net-zero campaign aligns with efforts to transform Houston into a net-zero industrial hub. A whitepaper published by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy declares that Houston is well-positioned to become a “best in class” net-zero hub.

According to the whitepaper, the hub “could serve as a magnet for new and emerging industries, innovators and entrepreneurs and investment in energy transition companies and resources. Failure to develop a hub could lead to loss of these benefits and opportunities.”

Consulting giant McKinsey & Co. points out that clean hydrogen is emerging as a vehicle to achieve net-zero status and says Houston could evolve into a global hub for clean hydrogen. A Houston hub that’s in place by 2050 could generate 180,000 jobs and an economic impact of $100 billion, according to McKinsey.

“With the right supportive policy frameworks, Texas could become the global leader in clean-hydrogen production, application, development, and exports with Houston at its core; the resulting thriving hydrogen community could push innovation and develop the necessary talent to conceive and deliver hydrogen projects,” McKinsey says.

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Here's what Houston research news dominated this year on InnovationMap. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

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